Kickoff: Sunday, January 9th at 1:00 PM ET
Location: FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, OH
Betting Odds: CIN +3, 42.5 total via Oddsshark
Joe Burrow (Sit), Brandon Allen (Sit)
Joe Burrow will rest in Week 18 because the Bengals have already secured a playoff spot. It could have something to do with the minor knee injury he sustained last week. Burrow downplayed the significance of the knee injury, but the fact remains the Bengals decided to rest Joe likely to stay on the safe side.
I don’t recommend starting Brandon Allen if you are still fighting for a championship this week.
Joe Mixon (Sit), Samaje Perine (Start, RB2)
Joe Mixon had a mediocre showing last week, but he didn’t need to do much with Ja’Marr Chase doing most of the work on offense. His Week 17 wasn’t amazing, but Mixon still saw an encouraging season-high in targets and receptions. Unfortunately, Mixon landed on the COVID-19 list on Wednesday and will miss Week 18.
As a result, Samaje Perine should be in line for a large workload this week against a middle-of-the-road Cleveland rush defense. Perine should be capable of RB2 production with the bigger role this week.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Ja’Marr Chase (Start, WR2), Tee Higgins (Start, WR2), Tyler Boyd (Start-able WR3), C.J. Uzomah (Sit, TE2)
Ja’Marr Chase set the single-game rookie record last week with 266 yards and single-handedly won a ton of fantasy leagues with more than 55 points. It was a monster showing to cap off a fantastic season for Chase. Ja’Marr is an obvious must-start if he plays a full game this week, but once again, the Bengals could limit the electric rookie’s load since they have already clinched a playoff berth. Chase is an obvious start normally, but without Burrow and his workload up in there air, he’s a risky play.
With four performances of 9.2 fantasy points or fewer and three games with 23 or more points, Tee Higgins has been a little boom-or-bust this year. The problem is mainly thanks to an inconsistent target share. Over the past five games, Higgins has had two games with 13 or more targets and three weeks with seven or fewer. Still, Higgins has been one of the more reliable WR2 receivers this year, and this week should be no different if he plays a complete game. But his outlook is certainly lowered without Burrow.
I wouldn’t want to trust Tyler Boyd in a championship week, but there are worse options out there. Boyd has done well lately, scoring three touchdowns over his last three games, but unfortunately, Tyler relies on those touchdowns to put up respectable fantasy totals. Boyd is start-able against a capable Browns secondary, but fantasy managers will likely be praying he finds the end zone.
C.J. Uzomah has not been consistent enough to trust. He hasn’t reached double-digit fantasy production since Week 7 and is barely averaging seven fantasy points per game over his last five. It seems like there are too many mouths to feed in Cincinnati for Uzomah to be a reliable option. He should only be trusted in extreme circumstances, especially if you’re still playing for a fantasy championship.
Baker Mayfield (Sit, Low-end QB2), Case Keenum (Sit)
Baker Mayfield is officially inactive for Week 18 and will likely have surgery on his shoulder as soon as possible. Case Keenum will start in Mayfield’s place, but that doesn’t matter much. I wouldn’t recommend starting Keenum or Mayfield. Baker has only tallied more than 20 fantasy points once this year and hasn’t had more than 15 fantasy points since Week 9. I doubt Keenum is a better option. Avoid both Cleveland quarterbacks if possible.
Nick Chubb (Start, High-end RB2), D’Ernest Johnson (Sit if Chubb active), Kareem Hunt (Sit)
This backfield will be tough to predict as Nick Chubb could be an unreliable option in Week 18. He sustained a rib injury last week and was limited as a result, logging his third-fewest carries of the season. To make matters worse, the Browns have nothing to play for this week and could opt to sit their talented back or severely limit his workload again. I’m ranking Chubb just outside of RB1 territory. If Nick is active, I believe he will split most of the workload with D’Ernest Johnson.
If the Browns decide to sit Chubb, Johnson quickly goes from a sit to a start. D’Ernest tallied 22.7 fantasy points when he led the Cleveland backfield in Week 10, and I imagine the third-stringer will want to make another good impression if he gets the lion’s share again.
For what it’s worth, I doubt the Browns activate Kareem Hunt for the last game of the season.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Jarvis Landry (Sit, Flex), Austin Hooper (Sit), David Njoku (Sit)
Jarvis Landry had a disappointing fantasy season. He put up 19.4 fantasy points and Week 1 and failed to reach that mark again for the rest of the year (although he only played 11 games so far this season). Landry is averaging just 9.2 fantasy points per game over his last two and could be without his starting quarterback this week. Managers should look for more dependable options if they are still playing for a championship.
Austin Hooper and David Njoku have both had a few impressive fantasy performances this year, but neither found consistent fantasy relevance in 2021. This tends to happen when a team has multiple talented tight ends; it’s difficult for one to put up consistent fantasy performances. When one succeeds, the other usually has a lackluster game. Neither Hooper nor Njoku will be a reliable start for managers still playing for a championship.
-Ryan Kruse (@ryanpkruse)